Big plays missing early for Eagles
The Eagles entered halftime with only seven points, and one of the reasons was their lack of big plays. The Eagles had only two plays of more than 20 yards in the first half: a 24-yard pass to Brent Celek and a 22-yard pass to Riley Cooper. They averaged nearly six per game during the regular season.
One of the issues in Saturday's first half was that they could not get DeSean Jackson involved. Jackson was targeted only once and was held without a catch. Jackson had been limited to seven catches for 57 yards during the last two weeks.
As well as Brandon Boykin has played on defense this season, he might be even better as the team's gunner on punt coverage. Boykin kept one of Donnie Jones' first-quarter punts from bouncing into the end zone when he tapped the ball at the goal line. It was ready for another player to down inside the 1-yard line. Roc Carmichael came running over, but he accidentally kicked the ball as he bent down to touch it. Carmichael lifted his hands over his face in embarrassment. The gaffe cost the Eagles 19 yards.
The Eagles appeared to have forced their second turnover of the game when DeMeco Ryans stripped Jimmy Graham at the Eagles' 15-yard line on a third down in the second quarter. However, the call was reversed when the replay revealed Graham's knee was down.
But the officials did not give Graham a first down, instead ruling him 1 yard short. The Saints sent their offense on the field for fourth down and ran for the first down. However, the play was nullified because of a false start. It was the Saints' second false start on a fourth down.
The Saints needed to settle for a field goal, capping a pair of potential momentum swings: a turnover that was overturned, and a first down that turned into a fourth down.
The Saints moved into Eagles territory for the second time in three drives after Graham caught a 21-yard pass in the middle of a zone defense. But Brees and New Orleans shot themselves in the foot again.
The Saints quarterback took a false-start penalty on the first drive, negating a fourth-and-1 attempt and forcing a punt. But after Graham's catch, Brees went deep for Kenny Stills, who was singled up against cornerback Bradley Fletcher. The Saints receiver, for some reason, broke off his route. Fletcher wisely looked back for the ball and played receiver. He intercepted the pass and ran 24 yards the other way.
Brees had thrown nine of his 12 interceptions on the road entering the game. That was No. 10.
Another big pick
No. 11 came a quarter later. Up by 3-0, the Saints drove into Eagles territory for the fourth time in five possessions just before the half. On second and 7 at the Eagles 41, Brees dropped and flicked a quick pass to receiver Lance Moore. But the quarterback was blind to linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who sat underneath and read his eyes. Ryans intercepted the pass, and the Eagles converted the turnover into seven points when Riley Cooper caught a 10-yard touchdown.
After the Saints stopped LeSean McCoy on third and 1, Chip Kelly went for it on fourth down, and the running back hit the hole and ran 8 yards to the Saints 15. But the Eagles went in reverse the next two plays.
Brent Celek was dropped for an 8-yard loss when linebacker Curtis Lofton busted up a screen pass. And then Nick Foles, despite having all sorts of time, held onto the ball too long and took a sack for an 11-yard loss and moved the Eagles back near the threshold of field-goal range.
McCoy ran 4 yards on third down and 30, but Alex Henery hooked a 48-yard field-goal try wide left.
The consensus heading into the game was that Kelly needed to lean on McCoy in the early going. The Saints had the NFL's 19th-ranked run defense, and they allowed a fifth-worst-in-the-league 4.6 yards a carry. But the New Orleans defense did a very good job limiting McCoy in the early going. He gained only 26 yards on his first nine rushing attempts and had difficulty getting to the second level. The holes just weren't there.
McCoy gained 32 yards on 10 totes in the first half.
The Saints may have gotten a gift penalty just before the half. On second down, Brees had nowhere to throw so he rifled the ball into the ground at the foot of one of his receivers. But just after the play was dead he pointed out to the officials that Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox had tackled Darren Sproles to the ground. An official dropped a belated flag to the ground, and Cox was called for holding.
Several plays later, the Saints trimmed the Eagles lead to 7-6 after Shayne Graham connected on a 46-yard field goal.